With more opportunities, Abrines has yet to take next step

Alex Abrines has long been a favored piece of the Oklahoma City Thunder and when the Thunder’s General Manager Sam Presti selected the promising Spanish shooter in the 2013 NBA Draft, the Thunder believed they had found their dazzling guard in the vein of a Manu Ginobli. Oklahoma City’s dealings with Abrines, or lack thereof, prove as much.

There have been opportunities to move Abrines over the years. With the NBA evolving to a more perimeter based game, even raw, stashed talents like Abrines could have been an intriguing bargaining chip for most GM’s. Still the Thunder remained committed to their pick.

Their commitment and strong belief in the young guard may be starting to show some cracks.

With Tuesday night’s game against the Portland Trailblazers signaling the numerical halfway point of the regular season, Abrines’ lack of progress has raised some questions among Thunder fans on if the shooting specialist has a future with the franchise.

It is no newsflash that second year players will play more than they did in their rookie campaigns. Abrines is no different. However, with the extra opportunities, the positive return has yet to come for the Spanish guard.

In 40 games thus far, Abrines has logged a total of 567 minutes and shot 39 percent from the floor (38 percent from three). Compare that to his first 40 games last season where Abrines played nearly 100 less minutes (477 minutes) and shot 42 percent from the floor and 36 percent from beyond the arc.

Abrines actually had more field goal attempts in those first 40 games of 2016-17 (147 attempts) than this season where he has shot 134 times. His three point attempts are down this season from last, 116-94.

Billy Donovan has also trusted Abrines more so than in his first year. In the 69 games, the first 40 last season and this entire year, Abrines saw the floor for 25-plus minutes only eight times. Six of those opportunities have come this year. Most notably his career-high 42 minutes logged against the Memphis Grizzlies, which also saw him drop a career-best 20 points.

Comparing these two sample sizes draws the conclusion that with more trust and opportunities, Abrines has been unable to take that next step in his development.

Even if you stretch out the sample size to his entire career with Oklahoma City, Abrines only logged 25-plus minutes five more times after the 40 game mark last year. Still below his total in 2017-18.

Of course, it is important to remember that Abrines did not have a true preseason as he was dealing with an injury.

“It’s been hard for Alex,” Donovan said. “I don’t think he’s in rhythm. Physically, he’s still trying to get back to where he was maybe a year ago. I think for people that watched him play last year, they can see that he’s not really physically the same level he was at.”

While Donovan is right to an extent, the opportunities have been plentiful for Abrines. With a roster that now includes Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and subsequent role changes for the rest of the team, the numerical opportunities are also mirrored by the “open-look” opportunities caused by having better teammates.

With higher team expectations, and a desperate need for scoring off the bench, at some point Abrines has to be better.

This is all paramount as the Feb. 8 trade deadline looms large. Presti and the Thunder have traditionally been very active as a franchise. While Abrines was always an untouchable in trade scenarios in the past, with those higher expectations, that tag has been removed by some.

It will be interesting to see how active Oklahoma City is for the deadline.

With a stacked roster, the Thunder have historically been reluctant to make any big moves via trade. The Finals team in 2011-12 was silent on the trade deadline, opting to add veteran free-agent Derek Fisher. The 60-win team the following year saw a similar course of action. Kevin Durant’s final year also saw the Thunder go the veteran free agent route.

The rosters that needed help due to youth or injury, the 2010-11 squad, 2014-15 and last year’s team, all saw the Thunder make big moves via trade, Kendrick Perkins, Dion Waiters/Enes Kanter and Taj Gibson/Doug McDermott respectively.

How Presti sees and foresees this roster will be the deciding factor. It has been reported that the Thunder will not seek to move Paul George at the deadline which opens the door for other trade scenarios, maybe some involving Abrines.

While the franchise still values Abrines and has high hopes for the Euro guard, it is undeniable that year two has been a disappointment for a plethora of reasons. Higher expectations and a lack of quick development may force Presti’s hand. Specifically, that opportunity will be there if a trade is desired.

There is still plenty of time for Abrines to bounce back. Donovan is right in that with more consistency, Abrines can bounce back and perhaps take that leap in development that many foresaw. Critiquing his game and future with the added consistency would also be more fair.

“I think he is moving in the right direction,” Donovan said during the Trailblazers pregame. “Coming off the road trip, he hasn’t been able to practice much but we will see how the game goes from here.”

The future with a talented roster, higher expectations and the ever active Sam Presti as GM open the door for many possibilities. Some that may include Abrines.

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